Bamberton and Uptown, revisited

New homes won’t be rising at Bamberton soon, but expect to see new industrial-commercial premises built at the former cement plant property south of Mill Bay.

After several years of studies and review, the electoral area services committee of the Cowichan Valley Regional District has rejected Three Point Properties’ rezoning application for 3,000 new homes to be built over the next 25 years on the 2½ square miles of hillside below the Trans-Canada Highway.

Ross Tennant, Three Point’s development manager, says it was a disappointment, but “I guess you have to play the hand you’re dealt.”

Three Point will proceed with maximizing industrial uses on the 60 acres along the central waterfront. He points out that “for a century Bamberton has been a driving force” for industry, but has been dormant for the past 30 years. Present industrial lands have been zoned that way since the cement plant operated, but just 25 acres are used for industry now — cement transfer, liquid asphalt storage, heavy equipment, and marine uses.

Tennant says Three Point will ask the CVRD to approve relocating the 60-acre industrial “footprint” away from steeper slopes. Terraced sites could be carved out of the slope, but would be visually intrusive, especially from the other side of Saanich Inlet, he says.

At the same time, the company wants to move ahead on a 40-acre industrial park site located beside the Trans-Canada Highway at Mill Bay Road. This project hopes to lure innovative environment-related businesses.

{advertisement} Three Point has spent $25 million on remediating the site and wants to recover those costs, Tennant says.

Almost half of the Bamberton site was designated for park and open space, but that has now joined the housing component on the shelf. Most of the land is zoned F1 for forestry operations, although Tennant thinks cutting timber there is unlikely.

“You want to be really careful about how you approach it and we would be.… To have an organized forestry operation there is not in anyone’s interest,” Tennant says.

Nothing is planned for those timberlands. “We’ve just agreed to park it for the foreseeable future.” Tennant hopes at a future date, the community would support a housing development at Bamberton.

Brian Harrison, CVRD director for Mill Bay, told CFAX news the development at Bamberton would add between 7,000 and 10,000 new people, too many for Mill Bay, which has 4,700 residents now.

“Over a period of time, it’s going to put stress and strain on everything from recreation facilities to parks to shopping centres to everything and we wanted to get all that clarified. It was felt that the amenities that were being offered were not sufficient,” Harrison said in the CFAX interview.

He said the number of homes to be built over more than two decades would be too much for the small unincorporated community, which now sees several dozen new homes a year.

But given forecast population pressure and demographic trends, “I think the supply [of lots] may not be as large as they think it is,” Tennant says.

The next phase for Uptown

Tall hammerhead construction cranes are back in the air over Uptown, the development project at the end of Douglas Street that’s giving Saanich the biggest shopping centre and office complex on Vancouver Island. About 60 per cent of the 900,000-square-foot centre is built, and phase two, now in progress, will add the final 350,000 square feet. Future condos will rise on the northern edge of the site along Ravine Way, where Saanich’s official community plan allows towers up to 18 storeys.

“It’s appropriate for what is emerging here,” says Geoff Nagle, Morguard’s director of development for western Canada, referring to the development of a new, more dense  “downtown Saanich” at that location.

No development partner has emerged yet to replace Westbank, the residential builder that dropped out of Uptown early in the recession.

“That will happen with the return of confidence to the multi-family residential market. We can’t do it. We buy and hold,” says Nagle.

Federal laws regarding investment by pension funds, which is Morguard Properties’ business, restrict such investments to long-term rentals and leases. Morguard can’t build condominiums for sale.

Offices and retail space are its bread and butter. Uptown has 200,000 square feet of class A office space, some of it already leased to tenants such as the B.C. Assessment Authority’s capital offices.

Retail is the big draw. Wal-Mart opened mid-July last year and has been busy. Nagle says the store has never ranked below third in Canada for sales.

He also says Uptown has never been about Uptown versus downtown Victoria — it’s more about repatriating some of the shopping dollars that went west to big box land. Like a shopping centre itself, the newly rearranged retail landscape will feature anchors at both ends of town, before too long linked by streetcars travelling the length of Douglas Street.

Light rail would certainly help make Uptown “easy to access” as its website promotes the centre. It’s been ripped recently by numerous shoppers who find it hard to get in, out of, and around Uptown. Nagle reassures complainants that “this is not the finished traffic circulation. When the big development is completed, everyone will find their way around.” When shoppers get there, they’ll find five levels of parking and on-street spots totalling 2,800 cars.

Patience is what Morguard is preaching. “We’re working with half a plaza, not a completed project.”

With phase two finished in the summer of 2012, there will be access by vehicle from all four sides and the ability to circulate within the site, he says.

For traffic, it’s the busiest place in Greater Victoria. Morguard says 100,000 cars drive by the strategic location every day on the two main routes, the Pat Bay Highway and the Trans-Canada. “This is the bull’s-eye for the South Island,” says Nagle.